By Juhi Bansal
Our Israel trip has so many high points, I am still reeling in the after effects. How can a country so small have so many exciting things to see! There is definitely so much to do in Israel that you may need more than a week. However, 7-10 days is enough time to experience a great deal. Here’s what I would suggest. Please note that we were not on a religious tour. Our trip was oriented towards history, culture, food and fun activities.
We made TLV our base city and mostly did day tours to other towns so we were back in the city most days by 6.00 PM. Which meant a quick soak in the Sea and a leisurely dinner before turning in for the night. It has everything from music to art to beaches to a very happening nightlife and truckloads of culture to boot. We spent 3 full days here and still it wasn’t enough. Here’s what our itinerary looked like.
Shuks, Markets and Neighbourhoods of TLV
The colourful markets and shuks give you an insight into the Israeli culture like nothing else. From Carmel Market or Levinsky or Sarona to the beautiful neighbourhood of Bougainvillea clad Neve Tsedek dotted with sophisticated boutiques and cafes or the boho Florentin with graffitis galore.
There is an art gallery at every corner in TLV! You will not be able to do all of Day 1 in one Day or would want to revisit a few areas the next day. Walk around in Rothschild Boulevard and end the day in Tel Aviv Port especially if it is a Saturday evening.
Day 3 Jaffa
Walk to the Old Jaffa town and take in the quaint streets, the architecture and the rich history. It is about a 45 minute walk from Tel Aviv centre. Alternatively, you can take a cab to Jaffa.
From the winding alleys to the flea market to the boutique shops to lip smacking Arabic goodies- Jaffa has a lot to experience. Plan to spend the day here so you can visit the port, watch tower, old Jaffa town, churches, mosques etc at leisure. Every step is a photo op in Jaffa!
Also, use your time in Tel Aviv to experience the culinary marvels both local and International (definitely calls for a separate article), the local liquor, the nightlife, the live music, the galleries, the beaches, the cafes, the locals, the dogs and cats and just about everything else.
Day 4 Jerusalem
We spent only a day in Jerusalem and I truly feel that was too less. I would suggest you to spend a couple of days exploring both Old and New Jerusalem and if time permits- the Underground Jerusalem as well. Some must visit sites include the 4 quarters (Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian and see how everything looks different every quarter of a mile), the Western Wall, Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnels, King David’s Tomb, and the Cenacle (where the Last Supper took place). Tour the Hurva Synagogue. Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked during his crucifixion. This walk ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and the location of his empty tomb. Don’t forget to visit the Tower of David Museum for a panoramic view of the city.
Also, explore the Mahane Yehuda Market in New Jerusalem. You can end the day with a quick trip to the Dead Sea.
Day 5 West Bank and Dead Sea
Since this involves crossing into the Palestinian territory I would suggest you go through a tour company rather than trying to do this on your own. The traffic into the West Bank is very strictly monitored and you will have to carry your passports to support the fact that you’re not an Israeli (who are not allowed to enter the West Bank). Having said that, the tour is extremely safe and a definite must do. We travelled to Bethlehem, Jericho and the Dead Sea. In Bethlehem apart from Nativity Church and Manger Square you may also want to visit the Banksy Wall and the Walled Off Hotel.
Jericho is the oldest and lowest city in the world. However, you can skip this completely (but I do recommend the Arabic food, should you decide to go) and either spend more time at the Dead Sea or cover another city in the West Bank.
Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth and an absolute must visit. I do not have the words to describe the glee you feel when you realize you will float no matter how deep the water is. The nutrient rich Dead Sea mud is another experience you shouldn’t miss. Just dig out the black mud from the sea and apply it all over. Float, rinse and repeat. Bliss!
Also, shop the Ahava Dead Sea products to take back home (slightly overpriced though).
However, please note a few things about the water in Dead Sea. It is hyper saline which means that if it comes in contact with any open wounds (even a small cut or gash) or your eyes it will be very uncomfortable. Take off your contacts before stepping into the water.
Day 6 Eilat
Eilat is the southernmost city of Israel, located on the border with Jordan. We drove there in a bus on our way to Jordan. However, even if you’re not crossing the border, it definitely makes for a visit. Swim (or Scuba dive) in the Red Sea and watch the sun go down.
Also, plan an overnight stay at the Negev Desert (close to Eilat) for the Bedouin Camp experience. We had planned the same at Wadi Rum in Jordan, so gave this a skip.
Day 7 & 8 Jordan
Will do a separate article on planning a 2 day getaway in Jordan.
Shopping in Israel
While we are not big shoppers on our trips, Israel is very famous for a few things and whether you have a shopping budget or not, you can definitely consider these:
Arak- a liquer made from aniseed
Dead Sea Ahava products
If you have more time or you’re looking to do a religious tour, you can add all or some of these towns: Haifa, Nazareth, Akko, Golan Heights, and the Sea of Galilee.